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Elizabeth Parker: Pioneer of Canada’s Alpine Heritage

For the week of Monday January 7, 2013

On January 13, 1904, Elizabeth Parker published her first article in the Manitoba Free Press. This would mark the beginning of a 36-year career for this woman who, through her determination and commitment, played a major role in creating Canada’s alpine heritage and promoting the sport of mountaineering.

Elizabeth Parker Hut, O'Hara Lake, Yoho National Park
© Melody Gross
Elizabeth Parker, née Fulton, was born in 1856 and grew up in Colchester County, Nova Scotia. After completing high school she obtained a teaching certificate. As was often the case back then, however, she left her teaching position after only one year in order to marry Henry Parker, and she subsequently moved to Halifax to raise their family.

In 1892, the Parker family left Halifax and moved to Winnipeg, where Henry worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway. It was at that time that Elizabeth became involved in a number of literary and philanthropic associations, which sparked her interest in literature and culture. In 1904, at the age of 47, she started writing as a literary critic. Her first article appeared in the Manitoba Free Press. She pursued her literary ambitions, adopting a number of pen names, along the way, such as “The Bookman” and “A.L.O.W.” (A Lady of Winnipeg). Parker used her column, A Literary Causerie, to expound on her favourite topic: Canada’s alpine heritage. This theme set her apart from other literary critics in that she was the only one to talk about it.

Stamp in honour of Phyllis Munday
© Canada Post Corporation 1998
On March 28, 1906, Elizabeth Parker co-founded the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) with Arthur Oliver Wheeler, a qualified Dominion Land Surveyor. The ACC would be Canada’s first independent mountaineering organization. It was under Parker’s watch as the club’s secretary that the ACC came to promote the upkeep and preservation of Canada’s alpine heritage. The ACC also stood for Canadian nationalism in that it was not merely a chapter of an American club. It also stood for gender equality since, unlike its U.S. counterparts, it allowed women members. Over the years, the club has influenced the regulation of Canadian mountain parks and wilderness preservation movements.

In 1907, the ACC launched the Canadian Alpine Journal, a magazine that is a landmark in Canada’s mountaineering and literary history. The groundwork laid by Elizabeth Parker has encouraged others to work towards protecting mountaineering, both through writing and regulation. One example is Phyllis Munday, a member of the “Mountain Literary Ladies,” a women’s literary movement focused on Canada’s mountains. She played a significant role in the development of mountaineering through her documentation of our alpine heritage. Elizabeth Parker set the stage for those who would follow in her footsteps.

Elizabeth Parker was designated a National Historic Person in 2011 for having co-founded, with Arthur Oliver Wheeler, himself designated in 1995, the first and primary independent mountaineering club in Canada, namely the Alpine Club of Canada.

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